Although losing is never the goal, wins don't mean all that much for the St. Louis Cardinals, who are finishing the regular season with a series against the host Pittsburgh Pirates that continues Tuesday.
The Cardinals (92-68) have clinched the National League Central and are starting to show that they are mostly interested in preparing for the playoffs.
In a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday, the Cardinals sat catcher Yadier Molina, made third baseman Nolan Arenado (quadriceps) a late scratch as a precaution and pulled first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and designated hitter Albert Pujols for pinch hitters in the seventh after Pujols had hit his 703rd career homer in the sixth.
"You're definitely wanting to win every game," St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol said. "But (Monday) was fairly scripted in how we were going to use our guys."
St. Louis will either face the San Diego Padres of Philadelphia Phillies in the first round.
The Pirates (61-99) still see value in scratching out wins, as they did Monday, and that includes one of their most promising young players.
"Anything that I can do to help this team get closer to a victory, it's always going to feel great," Pittsburgh shortstop Oneil Cruz, who drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth on Monday for the winning run, told ATT Sportsnet Pittsburgh through an interpreter.
Pirates manager Derek Shelton is aware that his team is in a much different place than St. Louis, though.
"Oli (Marmol) is managing for the playoffs," Shelton said. "We can't be affected by what they do or how they do it."
If the Pirates can win these final two games against St. Louis, they can avoid 100 losses and perhaps avoid last place in the NL Central.
Bryan Reynolds is also just two hits shy of 500 for his career, rookie Jack Suwinski homered Monday and is one shy of 20 and the team can try to earn a split or better of the season-ending six-game set against the Cardinals, who won two of three in St. Louis over the weekend.
So, Pittsburgh still has quite a bit to play for.
In keeping with its plan to prepare for the playoffs, St. Louis will start right-hander Dakota Hudson (8-7, 4.07 ERA) in a shortened role on Tuesday. Fellow right-handed starter Jack Flaherty will likely relieve him.
Pittsburgh has not officially named a starter yet, but will likely go with JT Brubaker (3-12, 4.58).
It's a similar setup to what the Cardinals used Monday, when Jose Quintana started and went just three innings before giving way to Miles Mikolas, who also pitched three innings.
Hudson came out of the bullpen in his most recent appearance, allowing two hits and a walk through three innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 24.
Hudson is 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA in nine career appearances (five starts) against the Pirates.
Brubaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15, will come off the injured list (arm inflammation). He is 0-6 with a 5.92 ERA in eight career appearances (seven starts) against the Cardinals.
--Field Level Media